GOP Governor Reforms: Which Worked Out Best, and Why‏


by Arthur Christopher Schaper

Looking over key reforms enacted by Republican governors and their legislatures, I find that some reforms worked very well, and the leaders and legislatures held (or are holding) onto their victories.

Other reforms did not pan out well (or have not panned out fully), and the Republican Party in those states is struggling to hold onto their majority power.

Some of the governors are facing uphill battles to get elected, and some of them are likely to lose.

What is going on?

Conservatives have to be savvy and politically inspired when implementing serious reforms. They have to work with people, even within their party whom they disagree with, and the reforms they push through the legislature have to demonstrate immediate as well as long-term results.

Let us consider Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s reforms, since he is the most embattled reformer of the incumbent Republican governors.

Brownback plowed over centrist Republicans and pushed them out for conservative alternatives. These maneuvers created nothing but animosity within his own ranks.

sen Brownback
Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas)

Tax and spending cuts do not material wealth immediately, either. Cutting programs without providing effective alternatives will incite ire instead of admiration from voters.

Consider Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s bold measures. At first, he was not interested in right-to-work, because of the inevitable divisiveness. Snyder did not take his voting electorate for granted, because he could not. Michigan is still in many ways a blue state. Perhaps Brownback concluded that he could push strong reforms without any fear of backlash because the voters are so reliably entrenched Republicans.

What pushed Snyder to go for RTW? The unions attempted to enshrine collective bargaining as constitutional reforms through initiative Proposition 2. The effort failed by fifteen points, but the unions tipped their hand, and Snyder could make it clear to Michiganders:

”I have no choice but to do this. . . “

He justified his reforms for two reasons: freedom for the individual, and economic growth. His reforms have played out fully and evidently regarding the first, even though the economic part has not developed fully.

Conservatives must engage the minds and hearts of voters.

Brownback’s reforms appeared heartless. 

Not that Brownback should have backed away from cuts, but the benefits had to connect with voters. His moves to cut funding for the Arts made him look heartless, cultureless.

Consider Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s example in contrast to Brownback and Snyder. Walker worked diligently with his colleagues in the legislature. So did Snyder.

In pursuing collective bargaining reforms, Walker needed to unite his party and his base. The reforms fostered immoral (and unethical) outrage from Democrats, enough that they fled the state to prevent a quorum.

Walker also explained the dire need for reforms which did not institute steep cuts nor raise taxes during a recession.

So, what can Republicans learn from the three different examples of reforming governors?

Reforms which save money without direct interventions on cuts or spending help conservatives accomplish their goals without alienating voters or limiting their reelection chances. Leaders need respect, consensus, and cooperation among members of their party. Reforms should not create divisions.

Walker’s collective bargaining reforms were politically savvy as well as moral and financially viable. Collective bargaining reforms limited an easy cash-cow for the state’s Democratic Party, and established the freedom of association for individual workers, and instituted structural reforms to save money.

Snyder’s reforms will promote similar political consequences, too, taking away an easy (yet immoral) funding stream for the Democratic Party in Michigan, along with the sclerotic influence of the Labor Movement in the Midwest.

With these reflections in mind, Republican Governors need to focus on reforms which produce immediate, positive, and individual results:

1. Collective Bargaining Reforms (especially for public sector unions). Walker’s legislation and enforcement have pushed back against union bullying. Big Labor will not have the unearned, unjust influence which it had held in the past.

2. Tort reform: voters don’t like lawyers, and lawsuit abuse hurts businesses, as well as aggravates government intervention at the expense of individual liberty and economic growth. Lawyers ten-to-one support Democratic candidates, and any reforms which hurt their financial interest will diminish Democratic dominance.

3. School Choice: Education is a crucial battleground in the war against unconstitutional liberalism. This reform would take away the arbitrary power of unions and school boards while empowering individuals and families. Funding based on moving enrollment would force schools to compete, spending their money effectively, and reduce the influence of Democratic political power brokers.

These reforms do not involve direct collection, transfer or disbursements of public money, but can generate more wealth for individuals and yet allow government to fulfill essential functions, are very important. They also permit conservatives to appeal to the innate sense of justice which everyone feels. These proposals champion “the little guy” while also laying out plans to limit government, expand individual liberty, and promote economic prosperity.

Conservative reforms must be bold, but well thought out, politically savvy as well as emotionally apparent to voters. Optics and opportunities must combine for conservative reforms to succeed in the long-term.


Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance. Twitter — @ArthurCSchaper